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Shadow Guard - chapter 3


Back to Now
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>  The staff went about their business, fluid lines and drugs administered with quick efficiency.  Amythys salvaged as much of the armor as she could, sending it to the base with a thought. She hoped Mindblight could repair it later, if he could be repaired himself.  The doctors were calm and professional, but she could see the unspoken in the quiet stares they gave each other.  They were concerned, and though they were trying to keep her reassured, she knew that the situation was worsening for the older hero.  Mindblight was luckily unconscious now, painkillers protecting him from feeling the terrible wounds he had received.  She tried to re-center herself as the machines ticked off his distress.  She gasped in alarm when Warpstone entered.  He had only ever come to the hospital three times before; upon the deaths of others linked through the crystal.  “No!  No!” she jumped to her feet in panic, this couldn’t happen.  She moved to put herself between
>  Warpstone and Mindblight, as if to protect the wounded man, but a gentle hand held her back.  
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>  Mr. Nobody appeared out of nowhere and reassured her, “it is not his time yet.”  His accented voice was soothing and Amythys stepped back in relief.  As the doctors shifted aside in confusion, Mr. Nobody leaned forward to lay a hand on Mindblights chest.  A green glow spread out to cover the wounded hero, it flared brightly then faded.  Mr. Nobody moved back as Mindblight slowly opened his eyes. Amythys sobbed in relief and jumped forward to hold his hand.  “Oh thank you! Thank you!” Mindblight flushed a bit and patted her hand awkwardly, “now, now, not your fault.”
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>  A soft and accented voice disagreed, “oh, but it was.” Everyone in the room whipped around to stare at Mr. Nobody in surprise. “She is the key,” Amythys was amazed to hear him echo Warpstone, who seemed to have left in the confusion, “she has placed herself to lead, we have decided to follow. She must know that her decisions have led here, and will again.” Amythys was shocked to her core at the truth of the statement. She was the leader of this little group, she was the one who decided to go check out the warehouse, she was the reason Mindblight had even returned to hero work, it was all her fault. The horror of it crashed upon her as she fled into the street with Mindblight calling after her.
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>  She switched to hyperspeed without thinking and within moments was far out along the piers of the island. She cried for awhile, the terrible guilt of knowing she was ultimately responsible for the near death of Mindblight weighing upon her.  And if Mr. Nobody was correct, at some point somebody in the team would be severely wounded again, possibly killed, following her lead. She couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for such pain, she would have to disband the group, go solo, never be put in that position again.
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>  With that thought in mind, a measure of rage welled within her; she would hunt down whomever, whatever was responsible and punish them. Mindblight had suffered enough already, she would never hurt the older man again. She set her chin and quickly returned to the warehouse to look for more clues. There hadn’t been time to notify authorities yet, so it was as she had left it.  She was dismayed looking at he ruin of the conduit panel, there was nothing left of it but melted slag, whatever energy trace Mindblight had intended to gather was beyond any reach now.  She knocked a large dent into a girder and turned to leave and stopped short upon finding the way blocked by another armored hero.
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>  He was surprisingly similar to Mindblight; green and dark grey techno armor, with dim circuitry tracing random paths. Yet while Mindblight had the enormous, articulated black gauntlets housing his sonic disruptors, this man had sleek, form-fitting gauntlets. He regarded her for a moment while she stood surprised and spoke. His voice had a strange reverberation to it which reminded her of times as a child talking through the back of a room fan to hear the choppiness out the other side. “I apologize, I didn’t intend to frighten you. I didn’t think you’d be back and didn’t know what to expect when I felt someone coming in, so I cloaked.”
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>  Amythys jumped on the most immediate point, “you saw us here earlier and didn’t help?  Mindblight almost died!” The man held his palms out in supplication, “I’m sorry, it happened too fast. I wasn’t in the room to warn you it was in the rafters. I don’t have your speed and by the time the energy pulse from Sword1 wasn’t blanking my radar so I could see, it was too late. I’m only good for before a fight, not after, and not much by way of healing. I’ve been trying to figure out why it was here.”
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>  Amythys tried to keep her temper in check, obviously this man knew more than she did, and she needed that information to track down the guilty. “So that thing is called Sword1, what is it, why was it here, and who are you? Not necessarily in that order.” The man sat down; in mid-air, seemingly without effort.
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>  “My current name is Grav-Wave, I had another name at one point, but it no longer matters since that man no longer officially exists. Sword1 is a very advanced robot built by another very advanced robot called Control Alt-Delete. Control was an experiment the Clockwork King did a while back. The King was trying to make a clock with more individuality, more self-sufficient and self-reliant, unfortunately, he succeeded. Control broke free from the King and fled to the Rogue islands to expand its physical and mental limits. It has built up a small force of robots to act as soldiers in carving out an empire. It has become rather powerful with stolen technology.”
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>  “I first encountered it when I was doing work for Crey in a previous life.  It took some rather important field generators I had been working on. After my accidental entry into my current life, I ran into it again during some raids against Crey black ops labs. I’m not sure what, but it has some plan it is following with ruthless single-mindedness. It has been methodical and efficient, and I have no idea what it’s up to.  I chanced to get close enough to lock onto the energy pattern of Sword1 and came here, I noticed you three at the door and kept back. I followed you in here and then all hell broke loose, so here we are.”
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>  Amythys thawed out a bit, “we had some run ins with Crey too, but they shouldn’t be much of a problem now that we put the Countess in jail.” Grav-Wave stood and gave her a little bow, “you have my thanks.  She decided personally to delete all trace of my existence after the lab accident made it seem like I had been vaporized; a small annoyance I’ve been longing to return with interest.”
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>  Amythys pointed to the ruined control box, “any idea what the robot was doing there? Mindblight said he thought it was feeding an energy pulse into the power grid but I’m not sure what he was talking about. He’s actually a lot smarter than me.” Grav moved over to the box and seemed to stare at it intently, “if that’s true it’s interesting that he decided to let you be leader,” he commented without turning.  “Yes, there was an energy pulse, I can see the echo of it under the force bolt.  Hmm, it’s a trace. It was designed to make the power grid ‘ring’ along certain energy wavelengths. They’re looking for something. This location is the center of the power grid of Talos, probably why the Council was interested in it too.”
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>  “But this isn’t the center of Talos,” Amythys protested.  Grav waved the comment away while pivoting to follow something only he could see, “not the geographic center, the center of the power grid, best distribution of signal.”  His armored head turned, as though looking through the wall, “there we go.  Probably a complex of some sort, underground, lotta power conduits, lot of signal, can’t tell from here what it is.  Well then, shall we?” He held out his arm in invitation.
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>  She took his hand, “hope you don’t mind a pit stop first.  I think we’ll need some toys from our base first.”  He nodded his acceptance and with a though she popped them into the entry room. She stepped down from the platform to get some enhancers from the lab but stopped when she noticed he wasn’t moving.  He had his head tilted to the side, as if listening. “Are you alright?” she should have thought this through more, none but those linked through the crystal had been in the base before.  She wasn’t even certain where ‘here’ was or what effect it would have on others.
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>  “This . . this is . . . wrong.” Grav-Wave stepped slowly from the platform and slowly ran his armored hand along the stone of the wall, as if petting it.  “This isn’t stone. It’s all hollow, all hollow, nothing behind.” He continued hesitantly down the hallway, still stroking the stonework and shaking his head in quiet puzzlement. “Like tissue paper . . . all hollow  .  . . . . . . . one molecule thick . . . . . no real gravity . . . . . .,” he stopped, “now where is that coming from?” He was staring at one of the walls, tracking something beyond it that only he could see. Then he shivered abruptly, a strange look with the armor, “I don’t like this place, there’s nothing here, absolutely nothing, it’s all dead space, dead. Take me back, I’ll wait for you at the warehouse.”  She concentrated a moment to send him back to the warehouse and spun around to look at the base again. It all looked fine to her, the wall felt like
>  stone, the gravity seemed fine.
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>  She was worried, there was too much she didn’t know still, and with the recent wounding of Mindblight, she didn’t know what to believe anymore. “Ask”, the hollow, echoing voice behind her should have been a surprise, but it actually wasn’t.  She turned to find Warpstone. “You heard what he said?”
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>  “We hear what you hear.”
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>  Amythys frowned, “is he right?”  She swept an arm at the walls, “is all this hollow? What did he mean by ‘dead space’ beyond?”
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>  Warpstone led her to the power center of the base, the giant crystal housed in bands of gold and platinum.  The wall flowed behind them, sealing off the room, she sensed that this was for her alone to witness.  Warpstone pointed to one wall and a large piece of it melted away, stone petals of a flower blooming out to create a huge window. Beyond the wall was darkness, complete and total darkness. “The universe we are in,” Warpstone stated. Amythys tiptoed to the edge to look out; the edges of the opening were sharp, she couldn’t see the thickness of the wall, it seemed Grav-Wave had been right about it not being stone at all.
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>  Beyond, the space was vast and frightening.  Endless darkness, an oppressive lack of light, as though the shadow were a physical manifestation pushing against the opening, about to pour in and drown her in a night she could scarce consider.  On impulse she pulled a mini flare from her pack and tossed it out.  She tracked it as it sailed away, growing dim and tiny til it was swallowed by the darkness beyond. “It’s all like this?  How far does it go?”  She could barely hold the thought of that much empty space.
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>  Warpstone pointed silently out the window and a new vista appeared.  There was a dim purple spark, a lone star out there in the field of endless night.  As she watched it grew closer, either coming to them with unimaginable speed, or they flew to it; though she didn’t feel as though she was moving.  The dim light grew until it filled the entire window and she was amazed to see that it was a single piece of the purple crystal.  It must have been enormous, the size of a planet or larger.  Details became clearer as they approached, great delicate spires of crystal like snow glittering at her, and still they continued to approach.  No, it must be far greater than a planet, for finer details kept emerging and still they approached at an impossible speed.  The sheer enormity of it unnerved her, she turned from the window.
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>  “What is it?” she asked.  She knew that this was the heart of whatever dark place they were, the source of everything that tied her to the others, and the final repository of the darkness they siphoned off to leave light behind.
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>  Warpstone had no inflection of voice, “a memory.  Dust of an eternal.  End of a universe.  Shadow of all that had been.”  And now she knew, the sudden understanding of it hit her like a blow.  This was a dead universe.  That impossibly huge chunk of crystal was the condensed remains of a universe that had lived out an entire lifecycle.  Untold and barely imaginable billions of eons of suns being born and dying, planets, life growing and fading, the shuffled off the mortal coil of an alternate reality.  And at the end of reality, what do the rules of such mean?  
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>  She knew without asking that the laws of nature simply didn’t apply here, creation of matter, transfer of energy, time, space, distance: all could be sidestepped or ignored completely. Small wonder Grav-Wave was disconcerted, if he was able to perceive atomic properties.  And also why the base was impossible for Crey to find, it wasn’t tethered in the dimension of Paragon.  But why drain off the darkness of another dimension?
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>  Again Warpstone answered her thoughts, “stronger, better remembered.”  Amythys was shocked, the implication that the base desires of man were stronger than it’s hopes and good works was impossible for her to accept.  It seemed the remains of this reality was pulling the darkness of the world Amythys came from to itself simply because that was all it could remember.  They were a form of life-support, allowing this shadowy remnant a continued, limping existence.




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